Car Crash Testing - Vehicle Stability

A rollover car accident is far more likely to result in fatalities than are non-rollover crashes.

According to the NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration) in 2000, only 3 percent of all passenger vehicles involved in crashes were rollovers, but rollovers accounted for 20 percent of passenger cars involved in fatal car accidents. [1]

  • Most fatal rollover crashes are single vehicle crashes.
  • Rollover crashes are more likely to result in fatalities than other types of crashes.
  • Rollover crashes constitute about one-fifth of all fatal crashes.
  • The number of fatal SUV rollovers ha s more than doubled since 1991, growing faster than any other class of light trucks.

The NHTSA provides consumer information on the rollover risk of passenger cars and light multipurpose passenger vehicles and trucks in the hope that the information help consumers choose safer cars and that in the end will reduce the number of rollover crashes and the number of injuries and fatalities from rollover crashes.

With the information from NHTSA car crash testing on rollover risk and vehicle stability, consumers and potential buyers of a new car will make choices about new vehicles based on differences in rollover risk. Thus the informed car purchaser give auto makers a market incentive in striving to design their vehicles with greater rollover resistance. [2]

Car Crash Worthiness
Star Rating System

You have probably encountered this star rating system if you've shopped for a new car. These ratings are important because they reflect the risk of injury to the car occupants. For a rollover crash test worthiness rating:

  • one star rated auto:
    40% risk of injury in a single car roll over accident
  • five stars rated auto:
    less than 10% risk of injury in a single car roll over accident

As part of this star rating system for static stability, the NHTSA also notes vehicles that are equipped with newer technology stability controls.

Avoid A Roll Over Car Accident

Avoiding a single car roll over accident can also be simple. Routinely doing things like buckling up your seat belt, checking your tire pressure on all your tires, and watching your speed can make a huge difference. Respect driving on older roads and highways. Older roads can also be more of a roll over danger because the road engineering and construction improvements have worked to make our highways and roads much easier to drive, and also easier to drive at faster speeds.

Passive Vehicle Technology

  • Electronic Stability Control (ESC)
  • Roll Over Air Bags
  • Seat Belts
  • Roof Crush Strength

Stability Control Systems - these can have several trade names:

  • Vehicle Stability Control (VSC)
  • Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
  • Vehicle Stability Enhancement (VSE)

Electronic Stability Control (ESC) uses automatic braking of individual wheels to prevent the heading from changing too quickly (spinning out) or not quickly enough (plowing out). ESC cannot increase the available traction, but maximizes the possibility of keeping the vehicle under control and on the road during extreme maneuvers by using the driver's natural reaction of steering in the intended direction. ESC happens so quickly that drivers do not perceive the need for steering corrections. If drivers do brake because the curve is more or less sharp than anticipated, the system is still capable of generating uneven braking if necessary to correct the heading. [3]

Roll over air bags - also designed to protect occupants in side impact collisions.

Seat Belts - Rollover car accidents are very dangerous. Many people that are injured or die in a single car roll over accident are not wearing a seat belt. The NHTSA reports that in 1999 "FARS [Fatality Analysis Reporting System] shows that 55 percent of light vehicle occupant fatalities in single-vehicle crashes involved rollover. The proportion differs greatly by vehicle type: 46 percent of passenger car occupant fatalities in single-vehicle crashes involved rollover, compared to 63 percent for pickup trucks, 60 percent for vans, and 78 percent for sport utility vehicles (SUVs)." [2]

Roof-Crush-Strength - There are new rules for the car roof strength to be increased significantly in new cars. NHTSA Strengthened the Rules and Standards for Roof strength in 2009.

The rollover safety regulation from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doubled the pre-2009 roof strength requirement for light vehicles weighing up to 6,000 pounds. It specifies that both the driver and passenger sides of the roof must be capable of withstanding a force equal to three times the weight of the vehicle. Some safety advocates however still believe that roof crush strength should be further strengthened to requiring a strength capable of withstanding a force equal to four times the weight of the vehicle.

Heavier vehicles from 6,000 to 10,000 pounds, which have never been regulated, must now have both sides of the roof capable of withstanding a force equal to 1.5 times the weight of the vehicle.

But like all safety rules, we have to wait to get the safety improvements. The safety improvement rule was made in 2009. The phase-in schedule, which begins in September 2012, will be completed for all affected vehicles by the 2017 model year.

Researching your new car roll-over rating is highly important. The previous legal battles that Toyota faced for rollover injury and death alleged that these vehicles put occupants into danger.

Roll Over Accident Injury Lawsuits

A Toyota whistle-blower case where a former attorney for Toyota alleged that Toyota hid records sought by plaintiffs in roll over crash lawsuit cases demonstrates that even with all the car crash safety testing and data, consumers still need to be vigilant.

The car crash safety standards for roof strength may have been accurate from the NHTSA, but the parts that Toyota used may have been faulty which would have exposed Toyota to a product liability lawsuit. It's difficult to say since this information has not been made public but Toyota had had to defend against more than 300 lawsuits about their SUV roll over accidents where the injury and deaths were extremely high and incongruent with other data which the NHTSA compiles through their FARS and accident reporting data bases.

As the Wall Street Journal reported nearly a year later,

Now, in a potentially more damning move, Biller has also filed a civil RICO suit, accusing the automaker of destroying test data in rollover cases and of concealing evidence in cases filed against it.

An arbitrator in the RICO case on Thursday handed a victory to Biller, ruling that preliminary evidence shows that Toyota hired Biller to illegally withhold evidence in rollover and accidents suits. But the arbitrator, retired federal judge Gary Taylor, also said he found no evidence a crime had been committed and he said he didn't see the ruling as an indication Biller would prevail in his suit. [5]

The case Biller raged was an extended years long saga that in 2012 did not look good for Biller and yet, legal experts say the case is deeply significant, and Biller said he was not done.

Biller contends, "Fox Searchlight states that Business Code section 6068(e) is trumped by the exceptions to the privilege. A lawyer can disclose confidential information if it's going to save somebody's life."

But in 2009 Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John L. Segal, presiding in Toyota's lawsuit against Biller, ruled that revelation of the confidential documents would cause the company "irreparable harm"; he then referred Biller to the State Bar for possible discipline. (The State Bar's Office of Trial Counsel declined to take action.)

During the arbitration proceeding a year later, Taylor ruled that Biller had made a prima facie showing under the crime-fraud exception and could therefore use otherwise-privileged materials in the JAMS proceedings. But he emphasized, "The Arbitrator does not rule that a crime or fraud has taken place."

In the final award - and without adjudicating the Evidence Code exception - Taylor found that Biller was still bound by a "greater rule" to safeguard his client's confidences. Then on appeal Judge Noonan stated during oral argument that an attorney has a "fundamental obligation" to reveal a crime. But the Ninth Circuit panel affirmed the lower court's confirmation of the award for Toyota because, although the arbitrator may have "misunderstood the law and misapplied it," he did not exhibit a "manifest disregard" of the governing legal principles. (Biller, 668 F.3d at 668 & n.7.)

"Unfortunately, the district court judge and the Ninth Circuit are too concerned that if they determine I was retained to commit crimes and frauds for Toyota ... it would open the floodgates for lots of lawyers to [bring] this type of claim," Biller says. "They were looking at the larger picture as opposed to the documents and the evidence." [7]

While this case in particular is of legal interest and a great degree of legal complexity much of that about a lawyer's duty to a client. The case and argument that Biller makes within the case gives new emphasis to buyer beware and serves as a compelling example of researching a car crash worthiness rating and paying particular attention to the roll over safety of any vehicle that you may consider buying. Research and consumer ratings would still have flagged these cars that Biller claims Toyota hid evidence about - consumers still discuss problems like these, especially when the accident injury and death are so high as these roll over liability car accident cases were.

Consumers who post reviews are therefor a huge asset to you when shopping for a new automobile. Consumers may not post car safety ratings like the NHTSA but in a situation like this alleged against Toyota in more than 300 roll over accident injury and death cases, consumer opinions could keep you from making a purchase that may not seem safe to the public. Consumer ratings are there for perhaps not scientific as the NHTSA star rating system, but, consumers who have direct experience with a car will be able to give you an honest opinion. There are several car sites and reviewers, even organizations which offer more consumer reviews that are less technical than the NHTSA rating system as well as the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety rating system.

Get the full story, and hopefully you'll get the safest vehicle possible for you and your family and friends.


A House lawmaker said Friday that internal Toyota documents show the automaker deliberately withheld key vehicle design and testing evidence in lawsuits filed by Toyota drivers injured in crashes [...] Biller, who worked at Toyota from 2003 to 2007, dealt with lawsuits against the company for vehicle rollover crashes. [...] [4]